Perhaps you spent last summer relaxing at the beach or on a boat, or taking in cooler temperatures up North. More likely, if you are in any way involved with the Sarasota area's ever-exploding mix of theater, music, dance and the arts, you were nose to the grindstone, furiously pulling together some of the many details that go into producing another successful artistic season.
The summer is anything but a restful break for the artistic directors and staffs of our cultural institutions. They work hard in the dog days of August to ensure that when November comes, the doors swing open to reveal the cultural highlights audiences here have come to expect. Of course, even the most dedicated arts maven (such as yours truly) can't make it to every show, concert and opening; so I've generously done some work myself to compose a calendar of events you won't want to miss-the best of the 2004-05 season.
We go flying off into the season with the Asolo's opening production of the J.M. Barrie classic Peter Pan, onstage Nov. 19-Jan. 1. Gus Kaikkonen, who's directed some strong Asolo shows in the past, will helm this one with a cast including regulars David Breitbarth as Captain Hook and Doug Jones as his assistant pirate, Smee, and young Eric Shelley as Peter.
The Sarasota Ballet is taking us places, too, with a tribute to New York, New York, a collaborative effort with The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. More a series of vignettes than a story ballet, this piece is choreographed by Stuttgart-based Alexander Schneider-Rossmy and will include songs ranging from Billy Joel to Leonard Bernstein. That's up Nov. 19-21 at the Van Wezel.
Also at the Van Wezel this month: a revival of Fiddler on the Roof Nov. 26-28 that salutes the hall's 35th anniversary (the purple palace opened with that show back in 1970) and a change of pace with Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam, a Tony Award-winning phenomenon that features a diverse group of poets "slamming" about love, politics, self-respect and whatever else moves them. One show only, Nov. 5.
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe takes a step in a more serious direction than its usual musical lineup with August Wilson's Pulitzer-winning The Piano Lesson, about the different meanings an heirloom piano has for an African-American family dealing with its past and its future. Troupe artistic director Nate Jacobs directs a cast including WBTT regulars Solomon Burton and Dean Wilson and newcomer Arnett German, Nov. 11-20 at the Gompertz Theatre on First Street.
Lastly, this is the month for festivals in Sarasota. You can sate your hunger for books at the Sarasota Reading Festival downtown Nov. 6 (among the authors in town: Bob Greene, Max Frankel and R.L. Stine); your love for movies at the Sarasota Film Society's Cine-World Festival, Nov. 5-14 at Burns Court Cinema; and your thirst for the blues at the Sarasota Blues Fest, headlined by Ike Turner Nov. 6 at the Sarasota Fairgrounds. How's that for range?
The Sarasota Ballet takes a break from The Nutcracker this season with its production of La Boutique Fantasque, a French tale about a magic toy shop set to the music of Rossini. Again, there's collaboration at work, as guest artists from Circus Sarasota and students from the Sarasota Ballet Academy join the company's dancers (including regular Mistie Metten as the wicked shopkeeper) Dec. 20-23 at the Van Wezel.
A performance more likely to resemble a religious experience comes with the Florida West Coast Symphony's interpretation of Haydn's The Creation, Dec. 3-5. An oratorio in three parts that takes us from the chaos and void before the creation of light all the way to the introduction of Adam and Eve, The Creation may be a challenge for the singers of Key Chorale, but should be pure pleasure to the audience.
On a darker note, the Van Wezel offers a more pessimistic view of human nature with Jekyll & Hyde, a concert version of the Leslie Bricusse-Frank Wildhorn musical based on the classic horror story of man's duality. Onstage Dec. 7.Florida Studio Theatre reaches back to the transformation myths of Roman scribe Ovid with its production of Metamorphoses, Dec. 7-Feb. 5. This is the Mary Zimmerman adaptation that was such a hit on and off Broadway a couple of seasons ago; the action revolves around a shimmering pool of water, so those in the front row are forewarned.
The Sarasota season typically goes into full throttle once the holidays are past, and this January is no different. The Florida West Coast Symphony presents some of its more intriguing works with guest violinist Vadim Gluzman performing Leonard Bernstein's Serenade (After Plato's Symposium), a mix of musical styles, Greek philosophy, and flashes of humor, Jan. 7-9. That same concert also offers excerpts from Wagner's Ring cycle; it may be a Sarasota first for both pieces.
Lovers of the American songbook may find it more relaxing to head to the Van Wezel Jan. 9 for an evening of standards from Michael Feinstein and Barbara Cook. Feinstein has performed at the hall before to packed houses, but hearing Broadway legend Cook (who made her debut on the Great White Way back in 1951) is a rarer treat. Cook has done it all, from musical theater ingénue to Carnegie Hall headliner to cabaret artist; and her pure soprano and engaging presence are still intact.
Also at the Van Wezel (and admit it, ladies, you've been waiting for this one) is the Broadway hit The Full Monty, adapted from the funny-sad movie about six mostly working-class guys who've hit hard times and are desperate enough to do just about anything-including taking off all their clothes-to make some money and win back their self-respect. Naturally, it's probably best seen by mature audiences-which, luckily enough, is the kind Sarasota mostly has. Onstage Jan. 18 and 19.
More play premieres flood the month, with Venice Little Theatre's acclaimed Stage II offering a witty, knowing look behind the scenes at a production of Chekhov's Three Sisters, Anton in Show Business. I saw this play, by the pseudonymous Jane Martin, a few years ago when it debuted at the Humana Festival in Louisville; and if you enjoy "inside" peeks into the world of theater, you'll love it. Onstage Jan. 27-Feb. 13.
The Players of Sarasota present another newcomer to area stages, the musical Zorba, Jan. 13-23. No word at press time on who will play the larger-than-life Greek, but Bob Trisolini will direct a show that artistic director Burton Wolfe says has not only great music-"but a great book."
It's a Wonderful Town this month over at the Golden Apple, where the Leonard Bernstein musical adaptation of the play My Sister Eileen takes us along with two girls from Ohio who hit New York with a bang. Kyle Turoff plays the gutsy would-be writer Ruth, under the direction of Will McKenzie. Onstage Jan. 11-March 6.
It's been a while since we've welcomed a David Mamet play in Sarasota, so it will be good to see the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's production of his Boston Marriage, Jan. 5-23. For once that fast, funny Mamet dialogue will be mostly in the mouths of females, as we meet two 19th-century women with a long-time romantic attachment-what used to be euphemistically called a Boston marriage-faced with a bit of a crisis. One reviewer-in Massachusetts, no less-called it "brilliantly clever."
And of course this is the month for the Sarasota Film Festival, Jan. 28-Feb. 6. Film submissions were still pouring in at deadline, but one thing we do know: the opening night film will play Jan. 28 at Van Wezel, followed by the opening night party in the Ringling Museum courtyard this year, always a great gala setting.
Take a deep breath as we head into the latter half of the season. February may be best known for the traditional opening of the Sarasota Opera season (which actually bows in late January this year) and, more recently, as the time when Circus Sarasota raises the Big Top at Tuttle and Ringling for a month of thrills and laughter. This year, the circus asks us all to "Live the Dream," and artistic director Pedro Reis is particularly excited about signing Cuban-born hand balancer Ricardo Sosa, who performed at Nelson Mandel's birthday bash in South Africa. He and the other Circus Sarasota performers will entertain Feb. 4-27.
The opera brings us two area premieres. The first, Verdi's Stiffelio (opening Feb. 19), is part of the ongoing Verdi Cycle project that will see all of the maestro's music performed here by the year 2013 (just hang in there). The story concerns a Protestant minister who discovers that his wife has been unfaithful; at first planning to divorce and shame her, he later forgives her while leading his congregation in worship. The 19th-century censors had some issues with this one, but the composer's stunning arias (here performed by Marie-Adele McArthur as the wayward wife and Todd Geer in the title role) were appreciated then and still are today. The second premiere, Leo Delibes' Lakmé, is set in 19th-century India; and although you may never have seen it before, you'll probably recognize the Bell Song and the duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano because they've been heard numerous times in the movies and on television. Lakmé opens Feb. 26, and stars Eglise Gutierrez and Eric Fennell as a pair of doomed lovers.
A little lighter is the Van Wezel's Cookin', which has been described as a "fast, funny, foot-tapping Benihana gone berserk." Part martial arts, part slapstick comedy, part dance, Cookin' is a South Korean creation that has four chefs trying to create a wedding banquet with just one hour's prep time. Watch out for those flying knives, Feb. 22.
Venice Little Theatre audiences have seen Ron Myroup, actor, in a number of roles; now they'll assess Ron Myroup, playwright, with his comedy premiere In the Lap of the Gods, at Stage II Feb. 24-March 13. Artistic director Murray Chase pegs it as "wacky in many ways," as a series of vignettes follows one character who's dogged by a strange, malevolent force throughout history. There's at least a touch of the absurd at work here.
It's time for Cats, as that long-running Andrew Lloyd Webber-T.S. Eliot hit finally gets a locally based production, at the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, March 8-May 8. You can count on felines hanging from every rafter of the Apple auditorium as director Ben Turoff scales the show appropriately for the intimate stage, with some advice from old family friend Betty Buckley, who, was, of course, Grizabella in the original Broadway cast.
Meanwhile, the Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre, which is extending itself all season with more plays than ever, takes a chance with the offbeat Side Show (March 10-27), based on the true story of Siamese twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, who long for a "normal" life as they take to the vaudeville circuit and, eventually, end up in Hollywood in the classic film Freaks. The Bill Russell-Henry Krieger show tells its often sad story almost entirely in song, and should be quite a challenge for the actresses playing the conjoined sisters.
Sisters are doing it for themselves at the 25th Sarasota Jazz Festival, which presents Sherrie Maricle and her all-female DIVA Jazz orchestra March 26. Also on tap at the fest: Kenny G., March 24; and a Piano Explosion night with Dick Hyman, Derek Smith and Paul Smith, March 25.
One sister who aroused controversy earlier this year is pop legend Linda Ronstadt, who offended some audiences with her embrace of muckraker Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 911. By the time she arrives at the Van Wezel March 3 (as part of the Van Wezel Foundation's annual gala), all that will be behind her; and fans will just enjoy hearing her hits and a blend of American standards as arranged by the late great Nelson Riddle.
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe presents a really big show, March 24-April 2, with The Wiz, the one that updated Dorothy's journey to Oz with rock music and an urban setting back in the 1970s. So big, in fact, that WBTT is taking it to a bigger stage-the one at Booker High's Visual and Performing Arts Center.
WBTT is also collaborating with the Players on the splashy Show Boat, which continues through March 6. And also this month, the Players present the premiere of a dramatic musical by artistic director Burton Wolfe, March 31-April 10. Wolfe wouldn't reveal much, but he did say it's a piece "relevant to today's scene, with music that reflects its locale."
Another really big show takes place at the Ringling School's Selby Gallery. Collector and illustration historian Charles Martignetti, steward of the world's largest collection of American illustration, has lent works by Charles Dana Gibson, Norman Rockwell and many others for this exhibition, which runs March 3-April 2.
The Ringling Museum of Art offers us a new look at the "size of life" sculptures of the late Duane Hanson, April 30-July 31. While Hanson lived and worked in Florida for many years, this exhibition is the first large-scale one to focus primarily on his Midwestern roots and its influence on his super-realistic forms of ordinary folks going about their business.
La Musica International Chamber Music Festival goes "Behind the Notes" examining "Music for a Purpose" at this year's event, April 1-19. Besides performing works by Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Mozart, the festival will look at what forces shaped the intent of their music over the centuries, with the help of hands-on lessons from Venice's own composer of both jazz and classical works, Dick Hyman, who'll lead a Meet the Composer session.
The Manatee Players honor another composer of note with Amadeus April 7-24. It's been a while since we've seen Peter Shaffer's take on the Mozart-Salieri legend; this production is directed by Bob Trisolini.
FST audiences have enjoyed the musical performances of Rhonda Coullet in both mainstage and cabaret shows over the years; now she brings her own work, long in development, Runaway Beauty Queen, to the mainstage April 12-June 4. It's about a journey of self-discovery for a Miss Arkansas-turned-Broadway-star; and it just happens to be Coullet's life story, so no wonder she plays the lead. Coullet, by the way, has also sung backup for Cher and penned a top 40 single, Bigger Than the Both of Us, for Jimmy Buffett,
We're entering the last lap of the '04-'05 season now. The Van Wezel finishes big with its first-time ever production of the Victor Hugo epic Les Misérables (May 10-15), while the Asolo lightens up with a show that's been making people-at least women-laugh hysterically from Orlando to New York to Chicago, Menopause the Musical. Yes, it's about "the change," as seen through the eyes of four women at a Bloomingdale's lingerie sale who have reached that certain stage in their lives. With song parodies such as I Heard It through the Grapevine, You'll No Longer See 39 and Stayin' Awake, Stayin' Awake, Menopause is anything but subtle. But for Baby Boomers and beyond, it's certainly timely. That's onstage May 14-June 12.
Throughout the season, there'll be a wide range of offerings for those with just about every artistic taste. And many arts groups will also announce new surprises along the way. So check back with SARASOTA Magazine's events calendar each month for the latest news.
Soprano Julie Makerov has had better luck with her love life than the operatic heroines she portrays; she recently celebrated her sixth wedding anniversary with "civilian" husband Mike, whose last name, she jokes, she took because it's a much better operatic surname than hers (which happened to be Day). Last year the L.A.-based singer was Sarasota Opera's tragic Tosca, in a performance that made one reviewer "tingle with the sheer glory of it"; this season she's the revenge-bent Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. "Mozart's a challenge for me, compared to Puccini," she admits. "But as I've been preparing for the role, it's rewarding to discover that I can sustain the high tessatura [pitch range]-something I couldn't have done a couple of years ago. My voice had to mature first." Makerov, 31, is anxious to return to Sarasota, where last year she made time for golf, the beach, and St. Armands Circle. "Shopping and eating-what more could a girl want?" she says with a laugh.
Itzhak and Toby Perlman
Virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman has awed Sarasota audiences a number of times; but when he returns next month he'll be helping young students to dazzle, in his role as teacher and conductor with the Perlman Music Program founded by his wife, Toby. The program, a partnership with the Florida West Coast Symphony announced last spring, brings gifted young musicians, ages 12-18, to town for a two-week winter residency, the first the Perlmans have offered in the United States.
The official Perlman program takes place over six weeks each summer on Shelter Island in New York, but Toby says mentoring and other activities continue throughout the year. "When we have a winter residency like this one, we're able to give the students another shot in the arm of our medicine," she says.
That Perlmans aim to help these talented young musicians become well-rounded human beings as well. "Of course other educational institutions want to do that, too," Toby Perlman says, "but the difference is we really can, because we're so small [just 40 students]. We really do know which kid didn't eat lunch or who had a nightmare."
And that year-round involvement is crucial, too, says husband Itzhak. "We have works in progress during the winter," he explains. "The kids come to our house to play, and we have a lot of small concerts we arrange. It really has what I call 'tentacles' throughout the year."
The Perlmans met more than 40 years ago when both were students at the Meadowmount summer music camp, and four of their five children are professional musicians. So it was only natural that when Toby initiated the program, Itzhak should become a part of it.
"At first I was on the sidelines," he says. "But very quickly it became clear to everybody that I could make a contribution, and clear to me that I wanted to. I was teaching before, but conducting-I'd always said 'absolutely not' to that. But when Toby came up with a little string orchestra, she said they needed coaching and I should tell them what to do. At first I would only use a pencil, not a baton, because a pencil means you're still a teacher. I was very insecure. But when I really got started, I got good results."
Violinist Perlman says he's always amazed at the ways Toby conceives to create "normal" people out of these often very pressured young musicians. One method she insists on, she says: "We all sing in the chorus. Each year we have new kids who are very resistant to singing, but over time they become addicted to it, as they begin to understand how it helps. If everybody sang every day, psychiatrists would be out of work."
While Itzhak also tends to his triple career as musician, conductor and teacher, Toby is so immersed in the program, she jokes, "I never go to Bloomingdale's. Forget it. I'm wearing a bathrobe that's 20 years old."
But, she says, the rewards are many. "We're still in touch with many of the students after they go on. Some of the musicians we know, even those in their 20s, are still not sure sometimes that this is what they want to do with their lives. We had a barbecue the other night, and one boy said he was thinking about medical school. Some of them have been so pushed, it's like they almost need permission to think that way. As they're growing up, we want to help them understand there's a big wide world out there. It's our job to help each child find their inner song."
The Perlman Music Program will be ensconced at the Florida West Coast Symphony Center Dec. 19-Jan. 2. A gala dinner on Dec. 29 at Michael's On East and a music performance Dec. 30 in Holley Hall are already planned; but in addition other opportunities to interact with the students and several recitals will be announced. And all rehearsals are open to the public. For complete information contact the symphony, 953-4252.
Growing up in Daytona Beach, one of 11 children, Nate Jacobs had little or no exposure to the theater. He's certainly made up for lost time since he came to Sarasota in 1983 after graduating from FAMU in Tallahassee, first working with students at the West Coast Center for Human Development staging school shows, then as a member of the Asolo Theatre Company for several seasons, and, eventually, casting, directing and appearing in productions at the Players of Sarasota and Theatre Works as well. Along the way he cherished a dream of forming his own African-American theater company, and now his Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe not only presents its own full season but also collaborates with arts groups including the Sarasota Ballet, the Manatee Players and Venice Little Theatre. Jacobs, 44, still finds time to take his own one-man shows on the road, too. "I discovered myself and my self-confidence when I entered the world of theater," says Jacobs, the father of a 12-year-old daughter who studies drama at Booker Middle (and will appear in WBTT's The Piano Lesson this month). "And I want to help more and more young people, especially in the African-American community, to do that for themselves."
For Sarasota Film Society executive director Noel Hazard, his new job and his new home are a perfect fit. The onetime managing director of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and more recently a teacher at the International Business Institute in Toledo, Ohio, Hazard was missing, he says, both "the ocean and the availability of diversified film programming. In my life I've traveled all over the world, and I had an itch to get back into films, especially foreign films. I like a film that takes me to a new place." The new place for the Film Society, of course, will come when it expands with a five-screen theater in Lakewood Ranch next year (never fear, cozy Burns Court Cinema will remain as well). But for now Hazard, 47, tends to focus on more immediate goals: making the whole operation at Burns Court (including the ticketing system) more efficient, and getting his wife, Betsy, here to join him. (She was still in the process of selling her Toledo law practice and their house at press time.)
That's the Ticket
A handy list of phone numbers for the area's theaters, museums and performance groups.
Art Center Sarasota: 365-2032
Asolo Theatre Company and FSU/Asolo Conservatory: 351-8000
Backlot Arts: 400-8401
Banyan Theater Company: 358-5330
Circus Sarasota: 355-9335
Florida Studio Theatre: 366-9000
Florida West Coast Symphony: 953-3434
Gloria Musicae: 954-4223
Golden Apple Dinner Theatre: 366-5454
Jazz Club of Sarasota: 366-1552
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art: 359-5700
Key Chorale: 921-4845
La Musica International Chamber Music Festival: 364-8802
Longboat Key Center for the Arts: 383-2345
Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre: 748-5875
Museum of Asian Art: 954-7117
Players of Sarasota: 365-2494
Sarasota Ballet of Florida: 552-1032
Sarasota Concert Band: 364-2263
Sarasota Film Festival: 364-9514
Sarasota Film Society/Burns Court Cinema: 955-FILM
Sarasota Opera: 366-8450
Sarasota Poetry Theatre/SoulSpeak: 366-6468
Sarasota Pops: 795-7677
Selby Gallery at Ringling School of Art and Design: 359-7563
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall: 953-3366 or 953-3368
Venice Art Center: 485-7136
Venice Little Theatre: 488-1115
Venice Symphony: 488-1010
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe: 954-4651